Showing posts in category: Tenants Property Rights

Security Deposit Law in California

What Every Tenant Should Know about Getting Back Your Security Deposit

I am often contacted by tenants who have questions about their security deposits.  There is a very long statute in the California Civil Code at Section 1950.5 that describes in detail how landlords and property managers must handle security deposits.  The Code section has requirements about how much a landlord can charge as a security deposit.  It also explains what  a landlord must do with a security deposit when a tenant has vacated a house or apartment.   For a complete copy of Code Section 1950.5 click here.

No lease, nor rental agreement may call any deposit “nonrefundable.”

Landlords cannot escape this rule by charging a “cleaning” or “security” or “pet” fee instead of a deposit. Under the law, the security deposit rules apply to any “payment, fee, deposit or charge” that’s intended to cover damage and unpaid rent. It doesn’t matter how it may be labeled in the lease or rental agreement.

California law requires that landlord only use the deposit for specific purpose.

Deductions are allowed “in only those amounts as may be reasonably necessary” for the following four purposes:

1. For money owed towards the payment of rent (default).

2. To repair damage to the premises caused by the tenant (excluding “ordinary wear and tear”).

3. If needed, to clean the premises, after the tenant leaves.

4. When agreed to in the rental agreement, then to pay for the tenant’s failure to restore or replace personal property or furnishings.

Within 21 days after you move out—whether voluntarily, by abandonment or by eviction—the landlord has to do one of two things:

1. Return your security deposit, or

2. Provide you with an “itemized statement” in writing saying why he is keeping part or all of the deposit. Any portion that is unaccounted for must be returned to the tenant.

Request a pre-move out inspection in order to avoid unnecessary deductions.

If your tenancy began on or after January 1, 2003 then you have the right to request pre-move out inspection of your rental unit. This can help to learn whether the landlord intends to make any deductions from your deposit for damage or uncleanliness. During the inspection the landlord or his agent, must point out any reasons why they might deduct money from the deposit. You’ll then have an opportunity to remedy the problems before the final inspection.

Here’s how to request the inspection: Within a reasonable time after you or the landlord notify the other party of the end of your tenancy, the landlord must inform you in writing that you have a right to be present at the inspection, which must take place (if you request it) no sooner than two weeks before the end of the tenancy. The landlord must give you 48 hours’ notice before the inspection if you haven’t already agreed on a time beforehand. You can fore waive the right to demand 48 hours written notice of the inspection, but I don’t advise it.

After conducting the inspection, the landlord must give you an itemized statement of intended deductions, plus a statement with the language contained in Civil Code §§ 1950.5(b)(1) through 1950.5(b)(4) and 1950.5(d). If you’re not present at the inspection, he should leave the list in the unit. You can remedy the problems at your own cost and potentially save yourself a lot of expense. Make sure if the repairs that are listed are significant that you get your landlord’s written authorization to do the work. Get specific instruction about how to fix any noted problems.

After you leave, the landlord will re-inspect the apartment and if he still wants to do further cleaning or make other necessary improvements, then he or she must send you another itemized statement listing the deductions within three weeks after you’ve vacated. This statement must also include copies of any receipts for work he claims to have paid others to do.

Preserve your evidence.

If your efforts to fix or clean don’t measure up, the landlord can still argue that you didn’t clean well enough. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep receipts for all the materials that you use to clean, and to follow up by taking good, detailed photos of the condition of the apartment or house when you leave. Make sure to address all of the problems pointed out by your landlord.

If a landlord fails to return your security deposit within the three weeks or doesn’t otherwise follow the legal steps for itemization and return, then the request for the initial inspection and the follow up itemization of noted problems together with your photos of premises should provide you with a strong basis to bring a claim demanding the return of your security deposit. If you can show the court that the landlord kept the deposit in bad faith, then you could get damages of up to twice the amount of the deposit.

  • As with all communication between with your landlord, a tenant’s request for the initial inspection of the dwelling should be made in writing. Date the letter, sign it, and keep a copy for your own records. If you have a bad relationship with your landlord, or just a bad landlord, it is a good idea to send the request certified mail.
  • If you make a request for the inspection and the landlord refuses to give it, and still attempts to keep the security deposit, then you have an even better argument that he or she is acting in bad faith.
  • If more than three weeks have passed since you moved out and the landlord has not either returned the deposit or sent you an itemized statement explaining what happened the security deposit, then you should send a letter demanding that it be returned.
  • If the security deposit is not returned, then you should follow up with an attorney to learn more about making your case in small claims.

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California tenants right to privacy – Civil Code Section 1954

Do tenants have a right to keep the landlord from entering their home?

The answer to that question is yes, but… you need to know the details.  California tenants right to privacy in the properties they rent is subject to a landlord’s right of entry.  However, landlords cannot just walk into your home whenever they feel like it.  For a landlord, or property manager, to lawfully enter into a tenant’s residence they must observe certain requirements.

Tenants often contact me wondering what to do when the landlord demands to be let into the house without advance notice and without cause.  In those cases, generally speaking, the landlord has no right of entry.   If a property owner wants in, then California law requires that they make the request correctly.

California law requires that landlords and their agents give the correct written notice before attempting to enter into a residential property. When they give notice, they must follow specific procedures.

The Notice must be in writing.

Any landlord or property manager that wants to get into the rental must give advance written notice at least 24 hours before the attempted entry.  The notice must be served at the property.

The Notice must explain why the entry is needed.

The landlord, and the agents working on his or her behalf, cannot simply ask to come into your home because they feel like it, or based upon unfounded suspicions.

These requirements are explained in detail in California Civil Code Section 1954.   The full text of the statute section is as follows:


California Civil Code Section 1954

(a) A landlord may enter the dwelling unit only in the following cases:

(1) In case of emergency.

(2) To make necessary or agreed repairs, decorations, alterations or improvements, supply necessary or agreed services, or exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, mortgagees,tenants, workers, or contractors or to make an inspection pursuant to subdivision (f) of  Civil Code Section 1950.5.

(3) When the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises.

(4) Pursuant to court order.

(b) Except in cases of emergency or when the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the premises, entry may not be made during other than normal business hours unless the tenant consents to an entry during other than normal business hours at the time of entry.

(c) The landlord may not abuse the right of access or use it to harass the tenant.

(d) (1) Except as provided in subdivision (e), or as provided in paragraph (2) or (3), the landlord shall give the tenant reasonable notice in writing of his or her intent to enter and enter only during normal business hours. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. The notice may be personally delivered to the tenant, left with someone of a suitable age and discretion at the premises, or, left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises in a manner in which a reasonable person would discover the notice. Twenty-four hours shall be presumed to be reasonable notice in absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice may be mailed to the tenant. Mailing of the notice at least six days prior to an intended entry is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

(2) If the purpose of the entry is to exhibit the dwelling unit to prospective or actual purchasers, the notice may be given orally, in person or by telephone, if the landlord or his or her agent has notified the tenant in writing within 120 days of the oral notice that the property is for sale and that the landlord or agent may contact the tenant orally for the purpose described above.

Twenty-four hours is presumed reasonable notice in the absence of evidence to the contrary. The notice shall include the date, approximate time, and purpose of the entry. At the time of entry, the landlord or agent shall leave written evidence of the entry inside the unit.

(3) The tenant and the landlord may agree orally to an entry to make agreed repairs or supply agreed services. The agreement shall include the date and approximate time of the entry, which shall be within one week of the agreement. In this case, the landlord is not required to provide the tenant a written notice.

(e) No notice of entry is required under this section:

(1) To respond to an emergency.

(2) If the tenant is present and consents to the entry at the time of entry.

(3) After the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the unit.

As is the case with most statutes, there is a lot of exceptions to the general rule requiring notice.  Unfortunately, many landlords, property managers and real estate agents attempt to take advantage of these exceptions in ways that can quickly become overbearing and harassing.

That’s why it pays to know your rights as a tenant and to speak with an attorney that can help you to assert those rights.  Most tenants are unaware that their lease agreement has a number of  implied promises between the tenant and landlord. These promises are common law rights known as covenants.   Covenants predate California statutes, but they are still good law that landlords must observe.

One of the most important of these covenants is known as the covenant of quiet enjoyment.  Simply put, it means that you as the tenant have the exclusive right to possession of the property you rent.  Your landlord cannot take this covenant away.

If your landlord is acting in a way that deprives you the full use and benefit of your rental property, then he or she is likely violating the tenants right to privacy.

To learn more about your rights as a tenant, contact an attorney that specializes in helping renters to assert their rights. Fill out the form below with the information requested and an attorney from Tenant Defenders will follow up to see what kind of help we can offer..

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